SoulTrain

15 Killer Ways to Avoid Viral DoomScrolling

Posted on: Sunday, August 23rd, 2020
Posted in: Rants & Roadkill, SoulTrain, Unplugging | Leave a comment

  • Doom? Gloom? Play ball instead!

Yep, it’s a thing. As if we don’t already have enough to freak us out, people (who already obsessed with their digitalia) can’t stop seeking bad news. It’s like admitting that banging your head on the wall is bad for you, but doing it all day anyway.

Many major media outlets recently exposed this unfortunate trend. They’ve  talked to experts, of course, who wisely told us to do things like acknowledge the issue. Plan and schedule activities away from your screens. Take more breaks from your tech and work. Meditate. Connect with someone (friend or family) for 15 minutes a day. Pick times and places to get your bad news, and limit your intake to those times only (how about only when sitting on the toilet?).  The pundits offer us the usual good ideas for mental health hygiene.

Good stuff, all of it. And I must confess that the more Real News I ingest, the more sick I feel. So I second the this emotion and would like to add my 15 worthy distraction—from an unfortunately experienced and deeply disturbed citizen of this sick planet…

  • 1. GROW A GARDEN

If you have a yard or patio, get dirty with it. If you lack that, hoard some houseplants. Or plant some seeds. The miracle and promise for the future sprouts naturally and just keeps on growing. And growing.  

  • 2. TAKE A HIKE

Or at least a walk. Peruse your neighborhood routinely, and note the simply amazing ways that things change daily, and more so over a season. If time and conditioning allow, wander anywhere and everywhere, keeping in mind that, “All who wander are not lost.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

  • 3. STRETCH

There’s enough instruction help online to hyper-stretch both body and imagination. You could buy a bunch of tools and toys (or go yoga). But you can also easily loosen up those tight glutes on the floor while watching bubble baseball. Your body will thank you.

  • 4. EXERCISE NEW REGIMENS

Kayak like a madman. Shoot hoops. Get that old bike working again. Dust off the yard games in your garage. Or toss around my old fave: Frisbee; there are also lots of Frisbee golf courses these days—often for free! Bounce a tennis ball, anyone? Or pick up that new (and superb!) not-just-for-geezers sport: Pickleball!

  • 5. WRITE POSTCARDS

You probably have a bunch stashed away from those trips you took back when, well, you could travel. Or create some. Write by hand to old friends or journey mates or—aha!—folks you met on the road. You’ll spark priceless memories and make someone’s day. 

  • 6. PLAY MUSIC

There’s a reason you can’t quite throw out those old LPs, CDs, cassettes, and 45s. And this time, really listen. Skip playlists; jump back into albums. Few pastimes can be as therapeutic and spiritual as hearing song.

  • 7. PLAY MUSIC 

It’s a lovely release and savvy exercise for hand-to-eye coordination. So noodle around with that old guitar, keyboard, or flugelhorn. Heck, you were probably pretty good…back in the day. Relive those days, rejoice in the noise, and play like nobody’s watching. (They aren’t.) 

  • 8. JUMP INTO LIVESTREAMS.

I’ve been blown away by the musicians, groups, festivals, and beyond that are entertaining online, usually for free. And some bands are releasing coveted concerts for ravenous fans. (I’m hooked on many groups’ shows, including Phish, Radiohead, and the Grateful Dead.) Museums and other venues are adapting too. So join the virtual party!

  • 9. COOK UP A STORM

No, you can’t go out as much as you used to. Yes, you probably have more time on your hands. So put your hands into creating tasty (and healthy!) meals. The CDC would approve.

  • 10. PURGE UR CRAP.

Does anyone enjoy sorting (and eliminating) old stuff? Nope. But does everyone enjoy the feeling of a lighter load and cleaner closet? Indubitably yes. So what are you waiting for? The next pandemic?

  • 11. TAKE A PRETEND VACATION

Watch movies filmed in exotic locales whether Fellini-esque or lampoon-y. Open up old scrap books and photo albums. Or better yet, pack a picnic and visit some popular area nearby that you normally avoid cuz of crowds and Karens. For a change, the traffic and congestion may be less of a hassle—and Karen likely stayed home to bemoan the closed restaurants. 

  • 12. BECOME A NATURE FREAK

Find Jeremiah. Take wing with birds. Look for creatures in the clouds. Watch the grass grow, for heaven’s sake. Nature never fails, and Toady doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about our stupid pandemic. PS Pick up a birdbath; you’ll make the birdies giddy, which will make you happy.

  • 13. HEAD TO THE SHORE

Any shore—whatever’s nearby. Water: Symbolic, calming, essential. And with any luck, there’s got to be a lake, stream, or sea somewhere close to your crib. 

  • 14. HOST A SOCIALLY COMFORTABLE EVENT

Some worry that C-19 is turning some people into premature curmudgeons. Overzealous anti-socialites. Hissy scare-dy cats. Could it be? Meantime, I’m cheering for the local senior softball league that plays on and then stretches out for some post-game beers in the parking lot. I will show up for the neighbor’s spacious bonfire. I mean, isn’t the risk of loneliness and isolation (to say nothing of lost relationships) a credible medical and mental-health concern, too?

  • 15. GIVE HELP 

Folks are getting sad, mad, and tense. Worse yet, someone you know is sick, locked-in, or otherwise limited. So pick up their groceries. Paint their deck. Or just ask, “How can I help?”  They’ll be so grateful, you may solve their problem, and you’ll feel pretty good about yourself too.

  • Please Resist Doomscrolling   : ) 

So turn off that newscast. Just peek at—rather than pore over—the news feeds. And pooh-pooh the politicians that have proven they are talented at very little beyond fueling fear and animosity.

Doomscrolling. Yep, it’s a thing. I’m sorry. We’re all sorry. 

May you stay safe and sane and (with apologies to poet Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day”) find better things to do with your wild and precious pandemic.

Keep the faith.

 

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FOTOFRIDAY: Seek Silence; Create Beauty

Posted on: Friday, July 17th, 2020
Posted in: SoulTrain, Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

“The whole world is at sixes and sevens and why the house hasn’t fallen down about our ears long ago is beyond me.” So says the omniscient maid, Sabrina, in the opening scene of Thornton Wilder’s 1942 Pulitzer-winning play, “The Skin of our Teeth.”

The show is about the never-ending vulnerability—and the resolute endurance—of the human race. The play’s three acts take place during an ice age, a great flood, and a horrific war. Were there a fourth act, a pandemic would fit right in.

Of late, lines and scenes from “The Skin of Our Teeth” sometimes echo through my head. (I was in the play as a child.) But such reveries feel like a luxury, because what’s often happening in our heads is the news of violence. Of scary health threats. Of disunity and anger and, above all, unprecedented uncertainty.

My wish for myself, and for all of us, is some silence. Stay informed and make your statements. But then turn off the noise. Seek the stillness—and listen to it. Create something of beauty, however esoteric or secret or temporary. After all, most of us are mostly stuck in place with some extra time on our hands.

Some day in the future, when we have returned to our busy, self-important routines, we may look back longingly at this unscheduled BreakAway.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Staycationeering

Posted on: Friday, June 19th, 2020
Posted in: SoulTrain, Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment
  • My daughter quietly making art in a moment of staycation calm

It’s funny. Most people spend most of their lives answering “How are you?” with the impressive reply, “I’m so busy!” In normal times, we therefore likely long for a long BreakAway, a relaxing vacation, or even a therapeutic staycation. That word’s gotten super-hot lately, yet now many folks are screaming, “I’m so stir-crazy!”

Well, here’s your staycation opportunity, friends—a topic that deserves a closer look in a forthcoming posts—and certainly in my own muddled world. Have you made your wish-list? Clean closets? Plant shrubs? Read The Gifts of Imperfection? Zoom your faraway rellies?

My daughter often surprises me with her staycation instincts and gift of spontaneously launching projects that make something out of nothing. Like this watercolor of a recent picture. Who know she could even paint so well? Drawing (and sailing!) the Hjørdis isn’t easy! (I know; I took sailing classes on her!)

Oh sure, this photo is a mere memory snapshot; I didn’t want to interrupt a moment of peace, of inspiration. But it reminds us to use some spare moments during this gift of (messy) time to seek some calm, creativity, and beauty.

We need it, right? Keep the faith.

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FOTOFRIDAY: The Silence of the Loons

Posted on: Friday, June 12th, 2020
Posted in: SoulTrain, Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

Recently, friends took me out on a pontoon ride to share the secret location of the oh-so hidden loon nest. Lake Owasso, like most Minnesota lakes, gets one beloved loon pair per year. Loons are fiercely territorial, remarkably fearless, and absolutely mesmerizing to watch.

In the Real World, problems keep becoming more explosive. Sad. And Surreal. So seriously: I recommend loons. Or whatever miracle of nature may be in your path that takes your anxieties away, fills you with reverence, and inspires a moment of peace.

Loons can be loud. But my response is silence. And for a fleeting moment—when the loon allows—that quietude and awe is the best therapy I could ask for.

I shot this photo alone at dusk, via kayak and a long zoom lens. The loon was aware of my intrusion, but somehow trusted my intentions. And my desire to coexist with respect and silence.

Keep the faith.

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FOTOFRIDAY: We’ll Get Through This!

Posted on: Friday, April 17th, 2020
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The ice will melt. The kayak, like the people, will be able to move forward without fear of injury. A new season will arrive—that lets us run free and splash on each other. We may even open that Corona (beer) without making a bad joke!

Until then, assuming you are well, TRY to enjoy this unscheduled sabbatical. Stay safe. Stay sane.

Keep the faith.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Play Ball!

Posted on: Friday, February 7th, 2020
Posted in: SoulTrain, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

To some of us, baseball remains a blissy mini-Breakaway. The game plays without a time clock, in the open air (ideally), and during the warm, long days. Oh sure, football has become WAY more popular, as presaged long ago by journalist Mary McGrory: “Baseball is what we were, and football is what we have become.”

But hey, football is finished for a while. Finally. And…

Next week, pitchers and catchers start reporting to pre-season practice—a rite of spring, of optimism, and of gentlemanly competition usually devoid of vulgarity and violence. We could use some of that in Washington, DC right about now. Although it’s worth noting that said city is presently home to the world champion Washington Nationals.

A sign of hope? Keep dreaming.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Ice Fishing BreakAways?

Posted on: Friday, January 3rd, 2020
Posted in: SoulTrain, Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

Throughout the past week, a friend has been sending me pics of his Florida beach vacation. He knows my love of all things warm, watery and beachy. He also knows I am mostly stuck in Minnesota during this holiday season, despite years of winter escapes for as long as 355 days. Or 4 months. Or 69 days. The longer, the better!

Things change. While I cherish those memories and pine for long winter getaways, I could do no better than to reply to my friend with this view from my desk—no need for 1,000 words.

Ice fishing BreakAways? Well, why not? For that guy, sitting on a frozen lake and hoping to land something fishy feels like a fun escape. A break from the grind. Some moments of peace and meditation, perhaps. Who needs surf, sun, sand?

I do. Yet I also know some are happy just to ice-fish. And that savvy, sane people pursue BreakAways wherever, whenever, and however.

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FOTOFRIDAY: ‘Tis the Season to be Musical

Posted on: Friday, December 20th, 2019
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See those angels on my piano? I hardly ever see them—because they are hidden inside the upright and only show up when the piano tuner opens up the instrument. It’s always a pleasure. But this time, I learned they’re not. Not angels. They’re flowers! Hand-painted inside this artisanal beauty. Imagine my disappointment—and during the holiday season, even!

Christmas takes a lot of knocks, deservedly so, since commercialism has taken over and drowned out the more celestial messages. So I listen instead to the music, since great Christmas music is abundant and timeless—whether from long-gone composers, Americana crooners, or contemporary creations.

I also enjoy playing Christmas music (especially when no one is listening). Few diversions offer such a complete, if temporary, BreakAway vibe.

One of my musical toys is this here Schimmel piano, hand-made in Faribault, MN. A German maker dating back to 1885, mine was crafted circa 1893, when the Schimmel family expanded to America for a short while and made only about 3,000 instruments. I am lucky to own one. And my Schimmel is lucky to have me—since old pianos often can’t find compassionate caretakers these days.

Got music? Play it. You’ll feel better, and fill your surroundings with angelic sounds.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and may the peace be with you.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Sunrise, Sunset

Posted on: Friday, November 15th, 2019
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Which is it? One rarely knows at first glimpse (of a photo). And frankly, most of us can tire of looking at other people’s sunrise/set pics, right? So you need not look—or read—for long. It’s just that this is what I saw when I reluctantly got out of bed and faced the first snow on the water today. Winter’s battle of restful versus dreadful has begun.

The ice and lake water will also battle like this for, oh, weeks, maybe a month, maybe more. The beauty can almost—almost!—compete with a lush summer day. That opposing season’s warmth and light will return, or so we’re told.

Meanwhile, we’re now officially on thin ice. So be careful. And try to enjoy.

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A Farewell For the Cat Who Cured Cancer

Posted on: Wednesday, July 24th, 2019
Posted in: SoulTrain | 4 comments

Daisy came from a farm way outside of town run by a hard-working married couple, both vets. They raised Arabian horses, Corgi dogs, and Ragdoll cats on a sprawling but hidden acreage that would make English bluebloods jealous. Daisy was the tiniest creature there—the runt of the bunch who could barely muster a “Meow.”

“Oh, you won’t need that cage,” announced the lady of the estate, “She won’t prowl around or bother the driver.” And sure enough, within a few miles and a few meek “Meows,” as if finding her voice, she was freed from the cage and asleep on one of my offspring’s laps. My son immediately dubbed her Daisy. Gatsby would be proud.

She remained as gentle as a kitty until her time here ended, not long ago.

  • The Comfort Cat

When a disaster like cancer hits, you may feel and be alone. But Daisy, the Cat, was always there. Always. She feared no ills and knew her place: Atop my recliner, curled into my shoulders, and purring until the cows came home. She was a good kitty, and I often told her so. “You’re a good kitty, Daisy,” I’d say. She liked to tell me she was my “comfort cat.”

She was beautiful, and she knew it. I occasionally suggested she should become an Instagram star, but just rolled her eyes. “Look what happened to Grumpy Cat…” she’d reply, “She got grumpy—and then she died.” “Well, we’re all going to die, Daisy,” I reasoned. But she didn’t like that idea at all, “Speak for yourself, pretty boy. I’ve got 9 lives, you know.”

Ragdolls were invented in California in the 60s—designed to be gentle, smart, and dog-like (though she resented the comparison). She was the ideal pet for the years of raising my rambunctious children, comfortable in her own fur. The kids would drag her around like a, well, ragdoll. And best of all, she never, ever, bit or scratched anyone.

Except for me, that one time. And I deserved it.

  • Talking With the Animals

Do you talk to your pets? Of course you do. Do they talk back? Of course they do. So you know I’m not crazy when I say that Daisy and I chatted routinely, solved the world’s problems, and occasionally fought like cat and dog. She spoke perfect English, except when other humans were around. I accepted her shyness; she welcomed my wit. 

She always knew when you were talking about her, of course. She’d look at you, then look away with a slow neck roll, perk back her ears in embarrassment, and then maybe saunter out of the room like Nancy Sinatra in stunning little white boots—as if to remind you that Mother Nature remains the best designer of all time.

I often yelled playfully at her, “HERE, KITTY KITTY KITTY!!!” like Grandma did on the South Dakota farm. Daisy would come running, like a good kitty, or, in her later years, lazily stare me down. (She won all stare-downs.) If she’d had a long day, she’d just say, “That’s enough, Horse.” (She called me Horse.) “I’m trying to get some rest here.” She liked to rest. Who doesn’t?

  • Where Does the Time Go?

The years passed. The kids grew up shamelessly. More and more, they came and went, mostly went, and increasingly found Daisy to be less fascinating than, say, a gaggle of friends or a shattered cell-phone screen. But she rarely complained so long as she had food, water, and a clean litter box. Smart, no?

I became her favorite house pet as the crib shrank from 4 to 1.5. She never strayed.

She wasn’t afraid to ask candid questions, like, “Where’d everybody go, Horse? Where did the time go? You said Prince said, ‘Ain’t nuthin’ but a party y’all!’”

“I know, right?” was my sometimes come-back when stymied, as reality gradually looted my intellect while she became evermore savvy and sassy. She hated human patter that made no sense. “I know right? Seriously?” she scolded me one night some years ago, “You people can barely communicate—just emojis and bickering. And by the way, thanks for ruining our planet.”

“I know, right?” I snapped back in lame defense. Yet she was probably right when she replied, “That’s not funny, Horse.” Perhaps she could foresee the Earth’s cancer, not to mention my own. The animals know.

When my lymphoma hit, Daisy showed me how to arch my back, stand tall, and stare down. She became my lead cheerleader, “Cancer? Schmancer! You got this, Horse—and you can use that phrase in your writing; you’re welcome!” she asserted. I barked back, “What do you mean, ‘I got this?’ I got cancer? I got a cure? That makes no sense, Daisy. You animals can barely communicate!”

“I know right?” she snapped back, and slapped her tail with a thwack that would make any beaver jealous. And such was the nature of our conversations, for years on end. Until the end.

  • The Darkest Night

On the night I thought my 9th life might be at risk, she was there, thank God. I’d skated through 5 chemos, tackled more steroids than the NFL, endured enough spinal taps to join The Band, devoured all the full-on full-head radiation modern medicine will allow, and then basked in a triumphant celebration.

Then it all got to me. I got sick. Very sick. Just like they said I would. For a long, long time. On the darkest night, the fever/chills cycle became so horrible I could only pray. Stay strong. Carry on. Just make morning. You got this.

Daisy was praying too. But in a quiet, Lutheran-Ragdoll sort of way. “You doin’ alright, Horse?” she asked more than once. “Never better, Dr. Daisy; shall we do shots?” I babbled in my stupor. She said no more, and knew better than to start a snark-fight at a time like this.

As that night’s sweat-freeze cycle kept repeating, I fell into bed and eventually discovered a brilliant idea: Take searing hot baths in the deep Jacuzzi when quaking with cold. So I’d boil a while, flail myself out, and then stumble back to bed. Then would come the shivering again—so violent I thought my bones might break. So I’d crawl back to the hot bath. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I lost count how many times I went back and forth.

And so it went for hours. Until. Until such time as I found myself in the tub, steaming like a teabag, too weak to get out, and hallucinating.

I saw demons. Junior high bullies. Screeching giant bats, scorching fire and ice, and spinning walls. There was a certain sick bliss about almost passing out, maybe going under. Might be nice, the hereafter. They say drowning is quite peaceful. And after all, there are only so many options. Bring it on. We got this…

Then I realized something: I must get out. NOW. Or, this might be the end. THE end. Of the story. Which sounded great, except… Really? I mean, it’s one thing to succumb to a valiant fight with cancer. But…drowning in a bathtub? That’s just stupid rock star choke. Embarrassing, really. Daisy would not be pleased.

  • Stay Still

Somehow, I got out. But in my near-coma frailty, I fell forward and took the shower curtain with me. So I fought it like a drunken sailor until I became untangled in the hallway, crawled my way back to bed, and climbed up. My head was reeling and my body quaking. But I swore to myself I would not go anywhere. No matter what.

My cell phone was there, so I grabbed it in desperation. I almost dialed friends-on-call, but what could they do? I started pressing 911, but—No! The endless questions. The bright lights. The body yanking, to say nothing of those nasty EKG stickers that rip your flesh off when they finally set you free.

  • Cats Worry Too

Once back in bed, the hallucinations and spins intensified—until the most twisted illusion of all happened: Daisy came to the door. She sat down and stared. And then you know what she said? You won’t believe this. Daisy said…“Meow.” I ignored it—assuming I’d simply lost my mind. But then she said it again: “Meow.”

I screamed—and fought with fists against the dark air. I could handle hissing snakes and dessert blizzards, but to see my cat unable to speak English? The horror! The horror! Slowly, and meekly, she just kept saying it, “Meow…meow…meow…”

People say you can’t train cats. But that’s not true, at least in Daisy’s case. And the most important thing she had learned is that the Kitty is not allowed on the bed. Never! Call me fastidious, call me hard-ass, but that’s the kind of guy I am.

Yet that night, everything was different. I could tell she was scared, worried. And it’s one thing to suffer yourself, but to drag others along? It ain’t right. So I gave in. I found my speaking voice and gurgled, “It’s okay Daisy. Come here…” and tapped the bed three times.

She jumped up. She cuddled in happily. I draped my wet arm on her velvet fur, and she started to purr. She didn’t care that I was dripping and the bed was drenched. In fact, she thought the whole situation was just swell.

Neither of us moved, except for my occasional shivers. We never slept. We never spoke. She just purred calmly, with a million heartbeats of hope.

When the daylight finally broke, such as it does (or doesn’t) roundabout in the dead of winter, my fever had also broken mostly. So I weakly uttered. “Well, that was fun, right, Daisy?” “I know right?” she head-butted back and then hopped off the bed, no doubt relieved to move on.

When I fumbled my way into the hallway, a flooded carpet and splayed shower curtain were in my way. “Did you do this, Daisy? You better clean it up?” I tried to shout. But she heard nothing, and had likely already trotted off to the utility room to check out her beloved food dish.

  • The Final Daze

Fast-forward to 2019. As this year’s winter dragged on, like a war, and a stubborn spring stayed away, Daisy and I again logged ample time on the recliner. A few years ago, she was there because she knew I was sick. Of late, she was there because she became the sick one, and sensed our time together was ending. We savored our final conversations.

“I gotta warn ya, Horse,” she yawned one night not long ago, “I’m feeling awfully tired, and I’m not sure you can save me like I did you. Geez, I wish cats got 10.” “Me too, Daisy,” I agreed softly, “Me too…”

“I think you mean, meowtoo, Horse,” she countered, ever the comedian. “You win, Daisy,” I laughed and we high-fived. After a pause, I continued, “It’s been a good life, Daisy, but you need some rest. Some peace…” She thought about it as I stroked the softest fur in the world.

“I see where you’re going with this. Rest? Peace? You’ve still got it, Horse!” she snorted. “I know right?” was all I could say, staying stoic. She smirked, and then reflected, “It’s going to be awfully quiet around here, Horse; you’re really gonna miss me…” I was speechless, until I whispered a strained, “I know. And thanks for everything, Daisy” with a kiss on her neck. And so we hung out, not wanting this particular night to end, half-watching late shows until our eyes slid shut.

  • Pushing Up Daisies

The house is indeed quieter now. I still expect her to meet me at the door, or at least open one eye when I enter the house. I try to resist talking to myself, but sometimes imagine her clever replies from the recliner. Occasionally, I sense a gentle, faint “Meow,” as if to remind me that everything’s going to be alright.

Daisy didn’t really cure my cancer, of course. But she got me through my longest night, which may have saved my life.

Thankfully, my daughter said yes when I asked her if she’d like to accompany me on a very challenging errand. And so Daisy passed peacefully, surrounded by her two loved ones.

Afterward, the skies cried. We weren’t ready to go home to an empty house, so we dined at the neighborhood supper club, where the good people served us complimentary beverages, a huge slice of chocolate cake, and some heartfelt compassion.

A small terra-cotta plaque imprinted with DAISY and her paw-prints now rests on the mantle, overlooking her favorite place atop our recliner.

Good kitty.

Daisy the Cat, 2006 – 2019
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